Will cleaning rugs with soap and water harm wool?
We are often asked if washing wool rugs with water and detergent is harmful to rugs.
If the wool hasn’t been previously damaged, the proper cleaning solutions in the hands of a professional cleaner won’t harm it. The detergents used are mild and only allowed to stay on the rug for a short time.
Wool for carpets and rugs is taken from sheep that live outdoors all year ‘round and are subjected to all kinds or weather – snow, rain, dew, heat, etc. It will get wet many times before the sheep are finally sheared. The wool is naturally greasy with lanolin to protect the sheep’s skin from the ravages of climate and environment.
When the wool is received for processing into fiber, it contains many impurities like dirt, sand, burrs and grease, all of which must be removed before the fibers can be spun into yarn. Most of these are removed in a scouring bath consisting of warm water, either soap or mild detergent and a mild solution of soda ash or other alkaline compounds. These baths remove the lanolin, which is then used in lubricants, cosmetic and pharmaceutical compounds, as well as the solid materials and allows the fibers to become completely wet.
During the dyeing process, the wool is placed in vats where it is exposed to water at high temperature for several hours. Detergents or other wetting agents help to completely wet out the fibers allowing the dyes to thoroughly penetrate the fibers.
Human hair, which can be compared to the wool in carpeting, is washed pretty frequently with soaps and detergents with little harm. The oils are removed, the hair is wet and although the soils are removed, the process doesn’t damage our hair.
Dry cleaners frequently use steam as a tool to remove spots from wool clothing. It’s only used for a short application and doesn’t harm the fibers.
It’s easy to see that after all the wetting that takes place before the wool is shorn and during the yarn processing at high temperatures, the use of a mild detergent and water wash by a professional rug cleaner will not harm your wool rug.
Kudos to Ned Hopper and NIRC Consumer Bulletin #3 April, 1963
Proof that some things never change. TMS